LONDON — Their matches might be slightly more competitive than games involving Harlem’s most famous basketball team, but Brazil are becoming Globetrotters in their own right.
Last Friday they played a seemingly bizarre friendly in Lille against Japan. Tuesday evening saw them travelling to Wembley for a fixture against England.
These matches only seem weird if the last five years’ worth of fixtures are not taken into account.
The money machine that is the Brazil national team have played 33 friendlies in that time. A staggering 24 have taken place outside of their own nation.
The tour does not end at Wembley. March sees two more high-profile friendlies. They take on Russia to mark the reopening of Moscow’s revamped Luzhniki Stadium, which will stage the World Cup final, before a trip to Germany.
There are reasons behind that. Brazil spent the time between the start of 2013 and summer 2014 without any competitive fixtures — barring the Confederations Cup — as they were preparing for their home World Cup.
As a result, they were available for matches around the world and probably did not want to overdo the home games prior to a long international tournament.
There is also an argument that many of the friendlies take place in venues that are convenient for their players.
Only four of their current 25-man squad are not based in Europe.
It cannot be argued that trips to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver or games at the Beijing National Stadium would be convenient for Europe-based players. But a pair of matches in France and England stops Brazil from putting their squad through too many miles.
They are also, quite simply, box office. And this is the main reason behind their ongoing global tour.
A game organised against Argentina for the Melbourne Cricket Ground in June this year drew 95 969 supporters. This was the second highest attendance ever for a football game in Australia.
Even at stadiums that are not as starved of good football, such as the Emirates, Brazil draw fans. A near-sell-out 60 007 turned up in north London when they took on Chile back in March 2015.
Of course, there is a cost associated with bringing Brazil to a stadium.
Pitch International, a marketing agency, currently have the right to help organise Brazil’s friendlies worldwide. It is understood it cost around £3 million to bring Neymar and his team-mates to Wembley.
The friendly against Russia at Stamford Bridge in March 2013 was touted as costing $3 million (£2,2m) to organise.
Even if a game is at a seemingly inconvenient time and location, there is still a commercial benefit. The match against Japan on Friday was organised for a 1pm kick-off as that meant it would be broadcast at peak time for an interested Asian audience.
Some of the more unlikely locations Brazil have played games in include the Unites States — where they have had six matches — China twice, South Korea, Singapore and Turkey.
Matches involving Brazil have drawn controversy in the past. An organisation called Kentaro managed Brazil’s international friendlies until 2012.
A friendly held in Qatar against Argentina three weeks before the vote which awarded the Gulf state the 2022 World Cup is subject to an ongoing investigation by Swiss authorities over where the $8,6m (£6,5m) match fee flowed. Brazil’s FA received $1,15m (£878 000) — a figure there are no legal issues over.
And in 2010, Tanzania’s FA paid $2,5m (£1,91) for Brazil to play a friendly in their country. The only problem was that the 60 000-seater ground was only half-full, leaving the FA counting the cost of a match that then-Brazil boss Dunga referred to as a “real test”.
Ultimately, it is no real shock that Brazil play so much of their football overseas.
With just three friendly losses since 2012, they only have a slightly worse record than the Globetrotters did against the Washington Generals. They guarantee entertainment.
No one more than Neymar, the jinking modern embodiment of Joga Bonito. Even the Globetrotters clearly rate his entertainment value, drafting him in 2016.